Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible. Pertinent guest posts are always welcome.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Imagining a New NCT Route in SE Michigan

from the NPS NCT map
from The Erie Hiker, (Mike Ingels) used with permission

There has been recent talk - just chatter, really [nothing official about this]- about a possible reroute of the North Country Trail through SE Michigan. Much of the trail in Michigan is complete, most especially the sections in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

Now, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the NCT is a trail local to our region. Currently, the trail passes through Toledo mostly on the flat-as-a-bone Wabash-Cannonball rail trail. The Wabash-Cannonball certainly churns up the miles. It reaches nearly to Indiana. However, it seems to be routed mostly to avoid our area. Who wants to hike for 50+ miles on a flat rail trail when other options seem possible. And the western section of the Wabash Cannonball is essentially a dead-end for the NCT. For years, people have tried, with limited success to route the trail up through Hillsdale County. Now, Hillsdale County is a beautiful place with lots of great people, but let’s just say that the county’s strengths do not include a great tradition of government/volunteer partnership. It’s just not the nature of the county. So, the likelihood that the trail will ever be completed in that area seems slim to me.

The possible reroute could possibly take the trail up through Monroe County. From the west, the new route would likely follow the old Airline
Railroad bed from the NCT in Calhoun County and to within a mile or so of Waterloo State Recreation Area and the Waterloo Pinckney backpacking trail. From there, the trail would cross U of M’s Stinchfield Woods and connect to Washtenaw County’s Border to Border Trail.

The Border to Border Trail will eventually connect to the set of bike trails maintained by the Huron-Clinton Metroparks through Lower Huron, Willow, Oakwood and Lake Erie Metroparks.

Two possible routes through Monroe County seem most likely. The first includes a potentially refurbished I-275 trail to Monroe. The second would follow the growing Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge along Lake Erie. You know which idea I like. The lakeshore route has several advantages. First, it opens a wide variety of funding sources. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, Michigan Nature Association, Michigan State Parks/Wildlife Departments and Ducks Unlimited all have properties in that shoreline zone.

The area has a coastal zone management plan and potential Great Lakes restoration funding. In addition, the Fermi II and possible Fermi III add the possibility of Homeland Security funding and private DTE contributions. Add the existing Friends groups for the Detroit River IWR and proposed River Raisin Battlefield and you have the makings of a very supportive and active local community.

The trail in this area could become the “home” trail for Ann Arbor hikers and backpackers. That would be a great boon for the trail in Michigan, given the way that A2 supports trails. And if the NCTA could make some peace with the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, an entire group of existing and trained volunteers could be ready to roll on this section of trail.

The trail could be the future vision for Monroe’s lakeshore. And it wouldn’t have to happen overnight. But the vision could attract people and jobs to the area.

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